A welcoming and affirming environment feels safe. It is a space where people can find themselves represented and reflected, and where they understand that all people are treated with respect and dignity. The environment ensures all cultural identities (i.e. race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, language, religion, socioeconomic background) are affirmed, valued, and used as vehicles for teaching and learning.
The MTSS framework supports the creation of a welcoming and affirming educational environment. In a multi-tiered system of supports, school improvement efforts should focus not just on academic outcomes, but on behavior and social-emotional components as well to ensure a positive school climate and attention to students’ mental health and well-being.
A shared goal of MTSS and Culturally Responsive-Sustaining (CR-S) Education is to increase students’ connectedness with their school communities. Students who feel connected to their school are more likely to attend school regularly, stay in school longer, and have higher grades and test scores (Fostering School Connectedness, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, p20. 2009).
How does a MTSS framework support increasing feelings of belonging and the creation of a welcoming, affirming environment?
- The implementation and ongoing maintenance of a Tier 1 Behavioral Core. In this behavioral core, “mutually agreed upon norms…encourage students to act out of a sense of personal responsibility to follow those norms” (p. 26) and adults work with students to create “explicit classroom expectations that meet the needs of all students” (p. 27).
- Interventions shown to increase student feelings of connectedness and belonging in their community, such as Check-In Check-Out and Check and Connect.
- The use of Restorative Practices to establish strong relationships between individuals and social connections within the community. Creating these connections and building community “allows different groups and ideas to become part of the fabric of the school community” (p. 26). Additionally, a restorative approach is utilized to repair harm and “welcome students back into learning when harm has occurred” (p. 26).
- The active evaluation of data to examine to what extent the school environment is welcoming and affirming for all students, including subgroups. The ongoing review of data includes subgroup analysis to ensure that the experience of subgroup members is not markedly different from other students’ experiences. In other words, an adverse outcome should not be predicted by one’s membership in a subgroup. Data analysis should include sources such as school climate data (SurveyWorks), Early Warning System data, and SEL screening measures.
- Periodic review and revision of school and district policies to ensure that policies are grounded in research-based best practices and that instances of misbehavior are considered learning opportunities.
1 From the New York State Education Department. Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework. Internet. Available from http://www.nysed.gov/crs/framework; accessed 1 February 2020